Day visit visas show how UAE could bring about a tourism boom
It is said that one of the benefits of a stopover is that it is like having two flights for one ticket. For passengers on Icelandic Air, back in the 1950s, this was very much the case.
The airline had one licence to fly to North America and another that allowed it to fly to Europe. For an airline with designs on the lucrative and fast-growing North Atlantic route, this was a problem.
The solution would turn a tiny island in the middle of the ocean into an international destination and create the concept of a stopover as a major source of tourist cash.
About 2 million people visit Iceland every year, in a country with a population of less than 350,000. Tourism accounts for one third of its revenue and employs one in 12 in the workforce.
Iceland’s lessons have not been lost on the rest of the world, with national airlines offering a chance to visit their home countries to passengers who might otherwise see only the inside of a transit terminal.
Dubai has long been a stopover centre but its new plan to offer day visas to nationalities that would previously have had to apply well in advance could bring a renewed tourism boom.
Singapore, Portugal, Turkey and Canada have developed stopover programmes with their airlines. Etihad Airways has done the same for Abu Dhabi, with the only restriction until now being passengers entitled to a visa on entry.
Three years ago, Singapore added US$15 million (Dh55m) into its tourism budget, with an emphasis on stopover guests. As a result, the country’s earnings last year from tourism rose by nearly 14 per cent, to US$20 billion
With Sunday’s announcement that stopovers would be available to all nationalities, the UAE will be able to fully benefit from its potential.
Andrea Bailey, from Dubai’s Travel Counsellors, said the new plan would boost tourism.
“With the hype around Dubai Expo 2020 that’s happening at the moment we have a lot of inbound tourism, which I believe last year set record numbers, even in the summer time, making use of the deals that run throughout the summer,” Ms Bailey said.
“This is definitely going to help those who are transiting and using Emirates and Etihad anyway as a stop, just to give them the incentive to go out there and get a feel for Dubai and maybe plan to come back and see it again. It will give them a great preview of the city.”
Manoj Balakrishnan, the marketing manager of Abu Dhabi’s Bin Moosa Travel, said: “It’s definitely going to have a high impact on travel and tourism.”
Many passengers from India to the US, travelling through the UAE, were deterred from staying over for a few days because of the high visa fees, Mr Balakrishnan said.
“So my question is, what is the fee going to be? We will prepare some packages when the full news is out.”
First priorities for Indian visitors would be to see relatives living in the UAE but then also taking the chance to see attractions.
“Before people couldn’t experience this because of the visa issue,” Mr Balakrishnan said.